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Professor John Borneman

Professor of anthropology at Princeton University who wrote the ground-breaking study of tribalism in the North American equestrian community.


1 -    What is the single greatest change you have witnessed in the equestrian world during your life time?

The increased use of drugs and doping, along with amazing advances in the use of selective breeding to improve the capabilities of horses to perform.


2 -    Do you ride?

Unfortunately, I quit about ten years ago.  No time.


3 -    Do you own a horse?

Not for about 20 years, but I look forward to doing so again.


4 -    Who is your favourite horse in history?

I have too many to select only one.


5 -    Who do you think was the most influential equestrian human in history and why?

Perhaps Xenophon because of his knowledge of dressage—how to perfect the horse’s natural gaits.


6 -    What was your greatest equestrian influence from books or cinema when you were young?

I saw a movie on the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.


7 -    What equestrian book would you recommend today and why?



8 -    How did you initially become interested in your specific equestrian specialty?

I loved horses and riding, and was taken by the idea of harmonious communication between rider and horse.


9 -    What prompted you to enter that field?

I entered dressage because of the deep intellectual and emotional understanding, and respect for the horse, that this science entailed.  I also was able to get some training in the German Equestrian Olympic School in Warendorf in the mid 1970s, which motivated and helped me enormously.  I started competing in Combined Training because I enjoyed jumping, and while living in Seattle, I could engage in this sport year-round.


10 -    Did someone encourage your decision or inspire you?

No, I hatde the other jobs I was able to get at the time, so I turned to teaching dressage and combined training, something I could do well and enjoy.


11 -  When did you begin your research, investigation, work?

I quit teaching riding and entered graduate school at Harvard to become an anthropologist, at the age of 30.  Then I had to write a publishable paper before doing fieldwork (on an entirely other topic), so  I decided to  try to make sense of horse breeds.


12 -    What do you think is your most important discovery, achievement or insight regarding your equestrian work?

That breeds are culturally constructed, and the idea of breeds differs in Europe and the US.  Moreover, breeds are structured on the model of ethnicity in the US.  In a second paper I wrote, I wanted to consider the emotional investment in horses, and how this is changing as people increasingly use their animals for profit.


13 -    What modern technology, techniques and media have you found most helpful?



14 -    What part of your work do you find most fulfilling?

I teach students how to think.  I no longer teach riding.


15 -    What’s been your biggest disappointment in your work?

Only minor ones.


16 -    How do you explain the gulf between academic equestrian investigation and the average horse owner?

The average horse owner does not want to know why he or she does what they do with horses, they just want to do certain things.


17 -    What equestrian subjects are in need of more research and investigation?

All of them.


18 -    Which part of the equestrian world would you like to see reformed and why?

More control on racing—ban the racing of 2 and 3 year olds.


19 -    How do you traditionally deliver your findings or message and how would you ideally like to do so?



20 -    What intellectual, technical or ethical advances would you like to see in the horse world?



21 -    Do you foresee any difficulties for the horse world in the immediate future?

We have several problems. One is the horses tend to be more powerful than the riders, so increasingly riders need outside trainers to handle their horses.  This makes the sport too professional, and does not allow enough space for the learned amateur.


22 -    What is the greatest challenge facing the horse world in the long term?



23 -     What books, magazines, websites, etc. can people read and review to learn more about your work?

N/A.  (Click here to read Professor Borneman's paper, Race, Ethnicity, Species, and Breed: Totemism and Horse-Breed Classification in America.)


24 -    Any final thoughts?


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